This Fourth of July, Celebrate Financial Independence

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, July 3, 2008; 11:17 AM

I know this is the day before the July 4th holiday, but before you skip town or work, join me for a live discussion about personal finance matters. Who knows, I may be able to save you some money before you celebrate Independence Day.

I'll be joined by Bob and Melinda Blanchard, who wrote this month's Color of Money Book Club selection: "Changing Your Course." To read my review click here.

If you feel stalled in your job or financial life, come chat with this husband and wife team, who provide insightful advice on how to "live what you love" through a five-step process.

The chat starts today at Noon ET. If you miss it, you can read the transcript later.

Pay For My Wedding

I was reading about the tradition of giving money to a bride and groom and came upon this new tacky tactic. Some couples are including a poem with their invitations to communicate their desire for cash instead of gifts. Here are two examples of such ditties:

* If you were thinking of giving a gift, to help us on our way, a gift of cash towards our house would really make our day.

* So if your thoughts were on a gift, your presence will suffice, but if you really feel the need then travel vouchers would be nice.

I know that in many cultures giving cash is a tradition, but honestly the intent behind the requests for money by many couples today still has me hopping mad. What they want is for their guests to pay for their wedding or honeymoon.

What these poems and pleas are really communicating, however, is that a gift from the guest is exepected -- and it better or should be money.

Last week, I asked for your comments about couples asking directly or indirectly for money. Here are some of the responses I received:

Susan Ednie of Brooklyn, wrote that in New York, the gift of money is expected. "The going rate right now is $250 to $300 per couple attending the wedding, depending on the size/overall flamboyance of the wedding, and we give more if the bride and groom are close friends or relatives. My husband and I 'broke even' at our wedding and were happy about that."

Jillian Hanright, of Northern Virginia, wrote: "Giving the couple money as opposed to gifts is an increasingly popular trend nowadays and I see nothing wrong with it as long as it is done tactfully." Hanright got married in May and registered for a honeymoon instead of gifts.

David Ulvog says, "I live in Japan where the custom is to bring some money to the wedding reception. No one thinks twice about this."

"I think asking for cash is crass," wrote Ted Quill of Henderson, Nev. "It would be different if there had been some horrible financial emergency in their lives, but otherwise, I would be very turned off by that kind of wedding invitation."

District of Columbia resident Kristin Kirsch received a wedding invitation with a honeymoon registry. Here's how she felt about it: "The entire situation makes me a little uncomfortable, but they have expressed that this is what they want, and now, knowing their feelings on the subject, I feel as if I have to comply."

I think Mark Flemister of Ellicott City, Md., sums up my feelings about this modern-day begging: "I think it's both highly offensive and unfortunately, a sign of the times. Somehow couples don't have any shame in asking for specific gifts such as cash."

Flemister noted that his wedding reception was in his father's backyard.

"I just really wanted to marry this woman and it didn't matter at all how simple the ceremony and reception were. We had the kind of wedding we could afford at the time."

I'm with Flemister. I fully expect one day to see guests handed, as part of the invitation, information to load money onto a credit card for couples.

Addicted to Buying

Even during a bad economy some folks just can't help themselves from overspending.

According to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 5.8 percent of Americans are compulsive buyers, reports Post business writer Nancy Trejos, in "All-Consuming Problem" (June 29).

Read her article to find out how you can overcome this "addiction" or chat with others who can relate in Trejos's posting in the The Checkout blog, "Too Young to Handle Credit?" (June 27).

These issues aren't just here in the U.S. Foreign correspondent Emily Wax reports in "India's Young Spenders" (June 24) that young workers in India are now embracing credit and purchasing lavish items such as brand name sunglasses, iPods, and more.

Pratik Dogra, 21, says that he's "totally broke but happy." The New Delhi sportswriter racks up more credit card debt a month than his monthly income. Keep reading more here.

Dollars for Dinners

Yet another sign of the tanking economy: cash-strapped diners are pulling back on eating out.

To keep the tables full, some restaurants are taking creative approaches to keep people eating out reports Michael S. Rosenwald in "Economy Raises the Heat in the Kitchen" (June 16).

Hard Times, Tough Decisions

Not only is the economy full of high and low points, but life can bring about change too. Divorce, loss of a job, and graduation can leave you without health insurance. In a recent report in The Post's Sunday Source section, Leah Ariniello provides tips to help with the transition.

1. Find a job with benefits. If you're working towards a dream job, get a part-time gig with benefits in the meantime.

2. Extend coverage through an ex-employer or ex-spouse's health plan. Try COBRA or state continuation coverage.

When choosing a plan, here are a few questions to ask about cost and coverage:

* How much is the deductible?

* How much is the co-payment?

* How does the plan handle prescription drug coverage?

See "What to Do When Your Health Insurance Runs Out" (June 22) for more options and questions.

You'll definitely need answers to those questions since Post reporter Kendra Marr writes that health-care costs will only increase in the coming years.

"Expenditures on technological advances, such as new machines and disease treatments, is a major factor in driving the long-term growth of health-care costs," reports Marr in "The Economy's Steady Pulse" (June 13).

About 47 million Americans are uninsured.

Surviving The Economy

This weeks's "Ask the Experts" feature in the Sunday Business section provided advice on something I've been encouraging people to do for years: BUDGET.

Here's what they had to say:

* David M. Taube, founder of Kalorama Wealth Strategies in Washington, D.C., says that you should start by calculating the monthly spending for each category in your budget. One of those categories should be savings. Read more of his advice here.

* President of Triton Wealth Management, Wayne Zussman, advises people to start by tabulating income - take home salary, investments, pensions, etc. Then list expenses; this will be the foundation of your budget, he says. Continue reading his advice here.

* Sacha Millstone, a senior vice president of Millstone Evans Group in D.C., suggests creating a detailed spreadsheet of where you've spent your money in the past year. Mapping out expenditures will help you stick to your budget. Read more here.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to . Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Charity Brown contributed to this e-letter.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company